— Entry #1 for Story Time. Published twice a month. —
“Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness. Take pride that even through the rest of the world may disagree, you still believe it to be a beautiful place.” ~Kurt Vonnegut
**Before you continue reading this post, I want to warn you that there are going to be spoilers.**
Recently I watched Markiplier play “Among the Sleep,” which is a short horror game where you play as a two-year-old little boy. The objective is to find your mother who is nowhere to be found in the house. Somehow you’re pulled into this magical place with monsters, and the adventure consists of surviving and finding four memories of yours, which will unlock the doors that are keeping you away from her.
At the end of the game, however, it turns out that the little boy’s nemesis – the long-legged and tentacle-armed witch lady – has been the mother all along. Apparently, she suffers from alcoholism and beats the son during her drunken rampages.
Overall, I think this game has an amazing story. There are two issues I think they should have fixed, but I’ll get to that in a moment. The thing that makes this kind of horror story special is that the monster is real – it’s an abusive, alcoholic mother – but at the same time, it comes of as fantastical since the narrator here is unreliable. As a little child, everyone and everything else looks bigger and scarier. My guess is that nothing magical really takes place within the house, because the boy uses his imagination as a defense mechanism in order to get through the night; actually I’m sure he has to do this day by day. That’s such a psychological twist, isn’t it?
For example, Teddy the Bear, our companion throughout the game, probably doesn’t move and talk on its own. It’s the boy imagining that the bear talks to him, because he’s afraid and he needs a friend by his side. I doubt that Teddy lights up, too, but his presence helps the little boy walk into the dark places so it makes sense that’s what he sees. That closet the little boy and Teddy enter in the beginning is most likely not a huge space either. (However, I find the abundance of large coats and boxes disturbing.)
Another interesting visual in the game hinting that there’s no real magic going on are the objects in each scene. Each level contains pieces that exist in their home, which becomes obviously apparent towards the end when you exit the closet. There are toys, owl figurines, stars, word cubes, and a fair number of things that I think are hidden in the boxes earlier, such as old photographs, paintings, boots, and empty liquor bottles. So we’re seeing an imaginative world, but there are puzzle pieces from his reality there, too.
Mommy is a Monster
Here’s what I think happens away from the little boy’s eyes: After he falls asleep, the mother begins unpacking the boxes, which we see spread throughout the home. By morning, it’s a huge mess, hence seeing so many details in the boy’s imaginary world. She takes this opportunity to have a drink… or twenty, who’s counting. Eventually she returns and steals the teddy bear. Why? I believe because it’s actually a gift from her ex-husband, which she doesn’t appreciate so she tries to destroy it. Remember, at the very end, a man with a gentle voice asks the toddler “if he likes his gift.”
Yes, the person ringing the doorbell is the boy’s father, who’s spoken of during the revelation when the mother says, “He will not take you from me.” Most likely, the couple has gone through a divorce so they’re fighting over the child. Whether the marriage fell apart because of her drinking, or if she started drinking after the divorce, it’s hard to tell. Personally I’m leaning to the latter, because the mother says, “Sweetie, please be quiet now. Mommy had a very rough day,” and later she says sadly to herself, “It’s too much.” I want to guess she’s depressed and overworked, which is no good excuse to be a mean drunk, of course, but it’s an excuse. That’s one of my issues with the story: They never make it clear why she has a drinking problem.
Anyway, the father is at the front door and here we get the one out of two hints that there’s something wrong with the mother. There’s some weird static going on, which turns on whenever you run into the witch lady. The noises from the hall get distorted while the parents argue briefly, then you hear the mother shouting, “No!” and the door slamming. This leads to my second issue and it’s a tricky one: The fact that the mother is the lurking witch comes off as a bigger surprise than it should. One more subtle hint would have done it, like maybe some empty bottles in the living room, or maybe she should sound more irritated when the phone rings and handle the toddler more roughly when she puts him in the play corner.
The major trick to having a menace in a horror story is not showing it until the very last minute, which they did well, I admit. I’m just not entirely happy with the revelation after the boy falls down a pit. Or was this adventure all about this boy realizing that his mother is the witch lady? I’ve heard that people who grow up in an abusive household aren’t always aware that what’s happening to them is wrong. Considering the protagonist is a toddler, it’s perfectly understandable that this little boy pictures his mother as something else instead of facing the truth. It also makes sense that he has to go through quite a journey in order to have this epiphany. Although, at two years old… that pushes it a little. Then again, it’s a game.
The second hint is when you exit the closet for the first time. When the toddler gets his teddy bear, his new friend suggests that they go into the closet, but he doesn’t say why. Teddy only says, “I hope there are no monsters here.” I believe the teddy is supposed to voice the toddler’s thoughts so it’s possible that the child hides in the closet often. Then when the mother opens the closet doors, she says, “You’ve got to stop hiding from mommy.” Even before I knew what’s what, the line threw me off. Why on earth would a small child hide from his mama? Knowing this is a horror game, that line just didn’t sit well with me.
So those are the hints we get: static and that one sentence.
Coats and Crayons
Stories shouldn’t be neatly wrapped and tied with a bow; that’s one rule every writer should stick to as much as possible. Keeping this is mind, I wonder, though, what’s the deal with the other monster which we encounter in level four. The toddler and Teddy run into a lot of huge coats in their little adventure, which is a head-scratcher: did the father leave them behind? does the mother sew for a living? make adjustments on other people’s coats? I don’t know.
Secondly, why does Coat Man here exist? Does she put on a coat at some point and stumble around like a drunk, crazy person and this is what her poor child sees in his baby point of view? It’s so strange. This one does literally rip Teddy away from the toddler so he only has the right arm left and when he finally encounters his mother again, she has Teddy; and Teddy has lost an arm.
The childish drawing are disturbing as well; they depict a small person being tormented by a bigger person, most of which look alike the witch lady. These are hints pointing to the fact that this is a reoccurring scenario. I wonder if the father or social services saw the drawings, which is why we the audience enter the story now. When you tell a story, any story, something new must be happening to the main character, and it would be even better if characters relating to him or her are experiencing change as well. Maybe the mother got worse once she realized that she’s going to lose her son. It’s pretty sad when she hits the toddler the following morning and says, “I’m sorry… I never mean to.”
What do you guys think?
The Children’s Story
I’m still trying to figure out what exactly lies behind this (untitled) bedtime story that the mother seems to read to her son regularly. I mean, he recalls it from memory. Sort of. As I said, Teddy is an instrument for voicing the toddler’s thoughts and he’s the one “reading” from the book. Obviously, a two-year-old can’t read and the teddy bear isn’t magical so you can see what I’m saying.
Anyway, when the teddy bear “reads,” the story goes like this:
Five thirsty animals upon a dry dry hill. “We could use a drink,” they sang, and started to drill. “Unless we reach water with our newly dug well, I think we’ll have to bid each other Fare-The-Well.”
From that excerpt alone, this children’s story sounds bleak. These five vague animals appear to be dying from thirst so they’re working on digging a well. Or else they’ll die.
Later, in the memory, the mother continues the story: “They had not dug far, before it started to rain. ‘Quickly, climb out, or there’ll be trouble again.'”
Then she says, “See? The little bunny is climbing out of the hole!” Bunny? What bunny? What are the other animals? What kind of trouble is the person talking about? I don’t like that there’s no name or pronoun attached to the quote. Who’s talking?
Maybe I’m looking for a hidden meaning that isn’t there, but what do you guys think about the bedtime story?
That is pretty much everything I had to say about this nightmare. I hope you enjoyed my interpretation and I really recommend you checking out the game. See you next week for another Story Time.